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Public oppose cuts for Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter

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Strictly embargoed until 6.00pm, Thursday 17 January.

Public oppose funding cuts for Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter

Plans to cut ratepayer funding to Auckland’s Westpac Recue Helicopter are out of step with public opinion, according to a newly released survey.

The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust is set to lose a quarter of its current $1.2 million per year ratepayer funding, which will force the service to rely more heavily on donations from the public.

Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust Chairman Murray Bolton says if the increased shortfall is not met by donor support the proposed funding cut could mean rescue helicopters being available for fewer hours and with reduced capability. It could also put at risk the ability to purchase a much-needed replacement helicopter in 2015.

While the funding cut could have significant impacts on the service, to restore the funding to the level requested would equate to an additional 64 cents per ratepayer.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter is the only one of 10 ratepayer-funded regional amenities in line for a funding cut but the public have judged the service to be the most deserving of all the amenities in a recent Phoenix Research Survey.

“On the question of which regional amenities benefit most Aucklanders we came out comfortably ahead of the rest and when asked how they would allocate funding the public put us at the front of the queue,” Mr Bolton says.

“We are in no way trying to target other amenities that receive funding but we are seeking a fair and equitable result.”

The Phoenix Research found that 86% of respondents said that the Westpac Rescue Helicopter benefits most Aucklanders. Results for the other nine regional amenities were between 10.4% and 68.5%.

The survey also asked respondents, if given $100 how would they allocate it across the regional amenities. The Westpac Rescue Helicopter was the organisation they wanted

to fund most, allocating it an average of $22.50 compared to between $4.10 and $13.80 for the other nine regional amenities.

“This compares to our actual allocation of $6.50 out of every $100 of ratepayer funding, under the Regional Amenities Funding Board’s proposal,” Mr Bolton says. “What they are proposing is simply not enough to meet our needs.”

Of those surveyed 46.2% were in favour of Auckland Council increasing its use of rates to fund the regional amenities with 35.6% opposed to the idea.

Phoenix Research surveyed 1004 Aucklanders online in late 2012 and the survey has a margin of error of + or 3.1%.

The proposed funding cut is outlined in the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board’s Draft Funding Plan 2013-14 which proposes cutting Westpac Rescue Helicopter funds for the second time in three years.

If it goes ahead the rescue helicopter will be allocated $900,000 of ratepayer funding for 2013-14 to run the two-helicopter service required to meet current demand. That compares to $1.5 million in 2009-10 when the service operated only one helicopter.

“We have just had our busiest holiday period on record,” Mr Bolton says. This does not provide adequate sustainable funding for Auckland’s Westpac Rescue Helicopter,” Mr Bolton says.

“We hope the public support for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter in this survey will be reflected in submissions to the Regional Amenities Funding Board.”

The public have until February 8 to make a submission. More information and submission forms are available at www.rescuehelicopter.org.nz.

Auckland Council will have the final say in March on whether or not the proposed funding cuts go ahead.

ENDS


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